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What I’ve Learned from My Dog

In the earlier years of The Ivey, Lacey, my 11.5 year old Bichon Frise used to sleep under my desk – awaiting another invitation to go sit in a member’s lap, or to help clean up the dining room floor after breakfast or lunch, or to greet arriving visitors with wagging tail. Oh, the interesting messages that lay in wait for her as she gleefully sniffed her way from staff to member to staff. These days, our membership at The Ivey has grown to levels that preclude her from having the freedom to grace the halls unattended, so her attendance is now sporadic. Yet, that doesn’t stop her from looking at me hopefully as I leave the house each day without her. While these hopeful looks break my heart, I know she quickly moves on to the task of a good long snooze, and the promise that tomorrow I might change my mind and take her. Sometimes I do.

Lacey is a true friend and companion, a constant source of love and amusement, and even more so, she’s taught me some of my greatest life lessons. Here are a few:

1.) Allow your authentic feelings. Do you ever waste time hiding your true feelings, and as a result, not get what you really want or need in life? Whenever I leave town for a trip, Lacey stays with my friend Charlene. But when I return, Lacey lets me know how she feels about this trip I took away from her, by giving me the cold shoulder for a little while. Upon my arrival, her tail wags a little slower than usual as she meanders out to greet me. When I pick her up to love and snuggle, she sniffs to make sure it’s me – and then, to my awe and disbelief, she turns her head away! Anyone who witnesses this routine always laughs, because it’s so funny to see me get “dissed” by my own beloved Lacey! That’s okay with me, though, because I know the cure: hug on her and stay close for awhile. Then we both get a good dose of love and connection.

2.) Follow your instincts. When Lacey feels like she needs to slow down, rest, or even take a nap, she does it. And if she has a cold coming on, she does it even more (or perhaps her body simply makes her). By contrast, how many of us think, “I need to slow down,” but keep moving through our days and weeks at breakneck speed? How many of us feel that we need more sleep, and yet we crawl into bed later than we should? I love the fact that Lacey is in tune to what she needs, and more importantly, acts on those instincts. It’s a lesson that we could all take to heart. Our lives might just be healthier, easier and more enjoyable if we did.

3.) Enjoy the journey. Like many dogs, Lacey loves to “go.” She knows the word, whether said or spelled. She may not know where we’re headed – and she may not even care – but she certainly enjoys the trip there. We’ve all heard the adage, “Life Is a Journey, Not a Destination.” Dogs really live this beautiful mantra. We can try to plan our lives right down to the tiniest detail – sometimes we’ll hit our goals, and sometimes reality has other ideas in mind. The one thing that we actually can control is to allow ourselves to enjoy our journey, no matter where it takes us.

Most of the families at The Ivey embody these life lessons wholeheartedly. No one counts on living with dementia. And yet, unfortunately, too many people find themselves in that very position. The families who manage through these challenges the best are the ones who allow themselves to have their authentic feelings, listen to their instincts so they get what they need, and commit to enjoying the twists and turns of the journey along the way.

I am grateful to be a part of their journey.

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